Best Korean restaurants in Chicago
Baked potato bread; warm, creamy blood sausage custard; Korean ssam piled with country ham—Beverly Kim and Johnny Clark's highly personal Korean-American restaurant is one of the most creative places in town. But it's not just the food that makes Parachute special—there's an interesting and well-edited beverage list, affordable prices and an utter lack of pretension that makes dining here comfortable.
The third of chef Bill Kim’s “belly” restaurants is an Asian barbecue joint co-owned by Michael Jordan and Cornerstone Restaurant Group. It’s loud, scene-y and sprawling. Start with a thoughtful cocktail and the habit-forming Thai-style fried chicken; finish with the rich-but-refreshing soft-serve. In between, order with abandon. With choices like griddled broccoli, tea smoked duck breast and roasted pork butt, it's hard to go wrong.
The Korean-style chicken at this cheery storefront is fresh, of good quality and comes slathered in three sauces: a sticky barbecue, a hot sauce–laced buffalo and a sesame-soy glaze dubbed “Seoul Sassy.” There’s also a decent bibimbap (best ordered with “marinated” vegetables, beef, an egg and brown rice) and Korean-style burritos whose fresh vegetables benefit from a liberal slather of sweetish hot sauce, but the chicken is the thing.
Korean-American mash-ups are certainly nothing new (as are other fusion-type restaurants you'll see below), but this sparse Rogers Park spot manages to execute its concoctions with enough pizzazz to make you want to check out a fusion restaurant. Sure, straight-shooters can do well with “bop plates," but we prefer the loosely packed burgers topped with an oozing fried egg, funky kimchi and a squirt of kimchi mayo. Surprisingly, the cream of the crop is a side: piping hot french fries drowned in a creamy mess of cheddar, bacon and kimchi. Yeah, we know, others do it, too—but bopNgrill does it best.
The intoxicating aromas of soy sauce, sugar, rice vinegar and garlic tell you this place is good before you walk in the door. Talk the server into letting you cook your own sliced beef (as is customary at Korean-barbecue restaurants) because the salty-sweet marinated meats we cooked tableside were more tender than the kitchen’s version. Of the giant wave of little side dishes that accompany the barbecue, don’t pass up the moist fish cake, perfect with a bottle of Korean beer.
With meat sizzling on a grill in the middle of the table and plenty of banchan plates filling up whatever space is left, the meal at Gogi is certainly a stimulating one. You'll watch as servers bring out raw meats to set on the grill in front of you—we were happy with our pork belly and brisket. But the fun part comes at the end of the meat being cooked, when whatever's left is thrown into a mix of white rice with grilled kimchi and slabs of butter with an egg and whatever banchan happen to be left on your table. And that's the best part—so don't fill up too quickly.
There's a reason a full roll of paper towels tops every table in this mod chicken shack: The signature Korean-style chicken wings are enormous, saucy, sticky and hopelessly messy. They are also hopelessly delicious, so order double the amount you normally would. (Here's a tip: Wings drenched in soy-garlic "Dak sauce" are more craveable than those in the spicier—but less interesting—barbecue sauce). One of the rice bowls—say, the tender bulgogi—is probably in order, too, not so much for the meat but for the rice, which can soak up any sauce the wings leave behind.
The well-loved Maria's Packaged Goods has done some upgrading and renovating to turn the space into a place where we could spend all summer. Kimski brings us Korean-Polish fusion eats like the Maria's Standard sausage with soju mustard, a hybrid sauerkraut-slash-kimchi, scallions and an amazingly soft roll. It also made way for a second bar to be put in beside Maria's, a large indoor seating area, a back patio and a small front patio. While we're sure we'll still miss the pies from Pleasant House, we're certain we'll be more than just fine with the Kimski menu.
This Korean–slash–Mexican fusion spot claims its inspiration from Korean street foods of California, Asia and Korea, which means you'll find tacos and banh mi on the menu. And the tacos are good—like a tender kalbi taco with cilantro-onion relish and toasted sesame seeds. Don't forget to grab a side of kimchi fries, they might not be bopNgrill's, but they're still pretty damn tasty.
This sprawling market has a crazy array of noodles, miso pastes and veggies to take home to try your own hand at cooking Asian cuisine, but you'll want to stop by the back corner of the market, where a small area is reserved for shoppers to grab a quick and cheap meal. You'll find vegetarian offerings like a veggie bibimbap with spicy kimchi or a kal-guk-soo, a Korean soup with handmade noodles and potatoes. Grab a meal there but don't forget to save some room for the dumplings at the counter to your right upon leaving—they're $2 a piece and massive. What's not to love?
You’ll leave here with the essence of ash wafting from your clothes, but that’s no reason to stay away from the charcoal-fueled Korean barbecue. The wang kalbi and dai ji kalbi are marinated, not saturated, in their respective sauces, which gives the high-quality meats a chance to speak for themselves. Don’t want to smell like a campfire? Try the bibim naeng Myun, a big bowl of cold buckwheat noodles and beef topped with a spicy and flavorful chili sauce.
Find more of the best restaurants in Chicago
Chicago is a town that cares as much about Grant Achatz's newest concept as where to find the best burgers. Hence it's with an equal passion for worthwhile splurges and cheap eats that we present our picks for the best restaurants in Chicago. (Tip: Begin or end your culinary adventures at one of Chicago's best cocktail bars.)